Book review

Review: The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M. Harris

302 pages| Gollancz| Fantasy retelling/mythology

The digest: As beautiful as the cover art is, I’m afraid to say that this book is average at best. I can’t recommend it to anyone even vaguely already familiar with Norse mythology, and there are better starting points for those with no pre-existing knowledge.

From the book’s Goodreads page:

“The first adult epic fantasy novel from multi-million copy bestselling author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris.

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods – retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.

Loki, that’s me.

Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.

So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.

Now it’s my turn to take the stage.

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.”

What I liked:

  • The narrator for the audiobook (Allan Corduner) is spot on, sounding like a middle-aged Loki reflecting on his past.
  • The writing style is accessible and nobody should have trouble understanding what is going on.
  • If you are a complete stranger to Norse mythology and you just want a straight to the point retelling, then there is a chance this might be for you. An alternative would be Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, another book I didn’t enjoy but thought was better than this.

What I didn’t like:

  • There is far too much repetition of certain words and phrases which distract from the immersion of the stories told – a proper edit would have removed this problematic area.
  • There was a sense of omniscience (all-knowing) from Loki which one would not expect from a book following just one POV – this seems to have been an unintentional oversight instead of a purposeful stylistic choice.
  • There is next to no originality here – if you know basic Norse folklore already then this is not the book for you.
  • There was never any real sense of excitement as we always knew that Loki would wheedle his way out of any given predicament, no matter how dangerous it would seem.
  • There is no character development at all. What we know by the end of the book could be written on a Top Trump card, and I don’t feel as if the author really put in any real effort to make the gods her own.
    • Compare this to either the Norse gods in the MCU or even the Rick Riordan series and you will clearly see that such development is easily doable.
  • The plot is all over the place, in one passage Loki talks about setting his mind on bringing about Ragnarök but when the time comes he’s sad to find it happening (well, duh, 50 pages ago Loki made it clear that you were purposefully going to make it happen).
  • The novel is marketed as a retelling of Norse mythology from Loki’s point of view, but it doesn’t do enough work to make this a vital part of the story. We still skip from event to event of Norse mythology, and in many passages, it feels like there this was simply a process of swapping pronouns to fit with this point of view.
    • Similarly, to call this a ‘fantasy epic’ is simply untrue. It is nowhere close to traditional epic novels (such as A Song of Ice and Fire, or The Lord of the Rings) or even more recent ones (such as the Stormlight Archives series). It is easy to be disappointed when you read a book expecting one thing to be met by something entirely different.

2/5. It’s quite clear to see that I didn’t enjoy myself too much with The Gospel of Loki. I found it to be entirely unoriginal, written in a questionable style, and lacking any reason for it to have been published – those after an introduction to Norse mythology could quite probably learn all of the stories here from Wikipedia.

That said, the book is not without merit, and for those who would prefer to consumer myth-based stories in novel format, then The Gospel of Loki may provide an adequate experience to some. The caveat here is that anyone serious about learning mythology would be much better off with other books, and those only casually interested would probably want to read at least one other text/adaptation in order to get a more accurate sense of who the gods are. I am left questioning the validity of this book in all honesty – I’m not convinced even Harris knew who its target market is.

7 thoughts on “Review: The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M. Harris

    1. Thanks for commenting 🙂 From what I’ve seen, the second book has a bit of a different format but if you didn’t like the second I doubt you will like the first!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Awesome review!

    Awww, sorry to hear this one didn’t float your boat. I really loved it, even though I’m pretty familiar with Norse mythology. I love Loki (from the myths. I mean, I *do* like the MCU Loki too 🤣), so this was a perfect read for me. Perhaps familiarity was a factor too. I read it during a time when my brain as fuzzy and I found it difficult to process new information.

    Speaking of Loki… Have you read any of C Gockel’s I Bring the Fire series? It’s hilarious 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some books just don’t work for some people – that’s okay. I am glad you enjoyed this one so much, though 🙂 I haven’t read that series, but after looking on Goodreads it looks like something I would definitely be interested in – thanks for the recommendation 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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